Review of MLA Expenses: Party Leaders Endorse Guiding Principles

At a meeting chaired by the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, William Hay MLA, the leaders of all of the political parties represented in the Northern Ireland Assembly agreed this evening to a set of ten “guiding principles” which should underpin a recently announced review of the expenses available to Assembly Members.

The ten principles (see below) will require the Assembly’s expenses system to continue to be based on the recovery of actual expenditure, not on an entitlement to allowances. They also include a commitment to openness and transparency and ensuring that any expenditure incurred by MLAs provides value for money. MLAs will also be expected to act within both the spirit and the letter of any rules set down.

The Speaker, William Hay, said: “We are reviewing the expenses arrangements for our Assembly Members. Although we have a completely different system than Westminster, I am aware that the recent negative publicity about how MPs claim expenses has dented public trust and confidence. I am pleased that the leaders of all the parties have enthusiastically agreed to recommend that these principles be used as the basis for our expenses system. I hope that the public will be encouraged that our local politicians are determined to ensure that the Assembly has an open, transparent and robust expenses system in which the public can have confidence.”

The principles are:

1. MLAs have a duty to observe the seven Nolan principles of public life in all aspects of incurring expenditure and claiming expenses.

2. MLAs have a right to be properly supported in carrying out their Assembly duties.

3. Any expenses claimed must be in respect of expenditure that has been wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred in respect of a Member’s Assembly duties.

4. The system for claiming expenses incurred by MLAs in performing their Assembly duties should be based on the recovery of actual expenditure, not on an entitlement to allowances.

5. Openness and transparency about expenditure incurred by Members will predominate, subject only to data protection, security considerations and inordinate or disproportionate costs.

6. Resources provided to enable MLAs to undertake their Assembly duties must not, directly or indirectly, benefit party political funding or be used for party political activities.

7. Arrangements should be avoided which may give rise to an accusation that an MLA – or someone close to an MLA – is obtaining an element of profit from public funds; or that public money is being diverted for the benefit of a political organisation.

8. MLAs will seek to ensure that any expenditure incurred provides value for money for the tax-payer.

9. MLAs will take personal responsibility for ensuring that any claims made in their name for expenses incurred in respect of their Assembly duties are correct and proper.

10. For all expenses claims, MLAs must act within the spirit of the rules as well as within the letter of the rules. The Assembly Commission will publish the rules and detailed guidance on the system for claiming expenses, and Assembly officials will provide any further guidance that may be required by Members.

Today’s agreement on principles follows a recent decision by the Assembly Commission to further improve transparency by publishing additional information on Members’ expenses. In September 2009, full details of every transaction made by an MLA (effective from April 2009) will be published on the Assembly’s website.

Executive Ministers Should Take Their Seats At Westminster If They Are An MP

The recent outcry over MP’s expenses has clouded our judgement over the necessity to have Executive Ministers represent us at Westminster in order to represent Northern Ireland effectively.
For those who say it is not possible – how does Gordon Brown do his job as Prime Minister and also represent his constituents as an MP at the same time?
The same applies to his cabinet colleagues who all have large ministerial portfolios as well as constituents.
Perhaps salaries need to be adjusted under an agreed formula for those ‘double jobbing’, but the important thing is that the people of Northern Ireland retain a strong voice at Westminster in these difficult times through their most experienced and effective political representatives.

Health and Social Care cuts

Have the cuts in admin and clerical staff in Health and Social Care led to a more ‘efficient’ service with real increases in front line staff, or are highly trained health professionals spending more of their time doing routine administration work as a result of the reduction in administration staff?

I feel I was badly treated by the NIHE.

I have found the NIHE to be an extremely powerful organisation. In my opinion, their complaints procedure is nothing more than a filter system which is designed to grind the complainant down and because it is mandatory, it gives the NIHE an unfair advantage and enables them to evade or possibly disguise any issues which may show them, or any of their officers, to be at fault.
They have repeatedly evaded issues I have raised with them and I have contacted all MLA’s in my area but I  cannot find a solicitor or MLA who is willing to take them on. Many have told me that the ombudsman is not likely to be any different.
It seems that we still live in a N.Ireland which I thought was a thing of the past.

Can you comment or advise on these issues?

public sector cut backs

Does cutting back on lower grade admin and clerical staff across the public sector and also the growing use of agency and temporary staff to deliver public services make for greater efficiency, or does it mean higher graded staff have to spend more of their time both doing and checking the routine work done in their departments?

How following RPA can 5 Health Trusts possibly remain responsive?

How following RPA can 5 Health Trusts spending £4billion (50% of the NI budget) possibly remain responsive to the needs of their local populations, yet the Assembly has decided there are going to be 11 councils spending only a fraction of that and providing far fewer services in order for local government to remain responsive to the needs of their local populations?

Concerned Parent

Can I ask why after all the media coverage and all the meetings the families with sick babies in Chicago have had with the First and deputy First Minister, why no one has come up with a way to take them home and provide the service they need?